Thank God Needham is a three-site town
Patch, AOL's attempt at a national network of community sites, recently went live in Needham, giving that town's online news consumers three different places to read about Peter Smulowitz and the guy charged with trying to kill his young child - whom Wicked Local says is a girl, Boston.com's Your Town says is a boy and Patch says is a child.
All three sites are very similar in what they seem to be doing: News, sports, calendar listings, information about the town (Patch helpfully notes which officials are "important officials"). In other words: Recreating a traditional weekly community newspaper, from back in the day when stuff like that was called "local" insteady of "hyperlocal." Wicked Local and Your Town have more depth at this point, having been around longer, and their writing is a lot more polished. Wicked Local is bloggier, Patch makes its employees volunteer in the town and is encouraging local folks to generate some user content (i.e., write for free), Your Town links to stuff on other sites (and has what appears to be dead forums - the most recent post was from almost two months ago).
Ultimately, of course, the question is whether even a well off town like Needham can support three full-time Web sites - are there enough advertisers who want to reach those 30,000 people?
If you live in Needham, how do you get your local news these days?
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These types of sites always miss the basics! Send someone to Town Meeting, tot he planning Board meeting, to actually attend the HS sporting events. That is how you connect with a town and build relevance. The things needed for viable websites are there, the advertisers and the potential traffic. The sites just need to show that they are doing what no one else is.
Back to your original point though, can Needham handle three sites? No way, even with one of them not paying anyone. There is money for two. Not all towns can handle two, but the bigger and richer towns can.
If one of these sites was smart they would go back 50 years and look at what towns supported their own papers and mimic those patterns but slanting toward modern demographics.
A vote for Patch
I'm going with Patch. I like the site, especially the writing and the interactive features. I think it's more user-friendly, plus I like all the videos. And I'm tired of the same two publishing companies controlling the media landscape in this area.
Actually, Needham has four
It never left the 1990s in terms of aesthetics, but there's still the Hometown Weekly: http://hometownweekly.net/